DOD's battle to balance its books

The primary reason the federal government does not have auditable books is the Defense Department's woeful systems, according to the General Accounting Office.

There is renewed effort within DOD to change that situation. "One of my highest priorities is to have reliable, accurate and timely financial management information upon which to make the most effective business decisions," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a July 19 memo.

And there is money behind that message—DOD has requested $100 million to create a financial management enterprise architecture.

The goal is not just to have clean and auditable books, noted Tina Jonas, deputy undersecretary of Defense for financial management. The real benefit of good financial systems is having good data that allows managers to make effective management decisions, she said.

The DOD financial management enterprise architecture is a critical first step, said Jonas, a former Senate staff member who is spearheading the architecture effort.

The enterprise architecture will be a blueprint for how the multitudes of systems that operate within DOD will work together, she said.

"It's your playbook," Jonas said. "It will drive every system and every business decision."

"A financial management enterprise architecture will be used as a road map to assist in the planning, development and implementation of financial management systems that comply with federal mandates and requirements and that produce reliable information for Department of Defense managers and decision-makers," said the statement of work included as part of a July 27 draft request for information.

DOD has been bogged down by a huge number of legacy financial systems. The scores of outdated, stovepiped feeder systems transmit data to DOD's core accounting systems. But because there have been no standards, DOD has been forced to develop software that translates the data into the core system. And—much like the children's game of telephone—the data becomes distorted the farther it goes down the chain.

DOD has written its Financial Management Improvement Plan, but Jonas said that document is just the start of a more detailed financial management enterprise architecture.

DOD faces a huge task of coordinating the scores of programs that feed data into DOD's core accounting system. Without any overarching architecture, there are no standards for that data, said William Phillips, a partner with Pricewaterhouse.Coopers, who consulted with a group that Rumsfeld assigned to make recommendations for fixing DOD's financial mess.

In a May report, GAO said the architecture is critical to the success of DOD's financial fixes. Without this kind of "blueprint" to guide DOD investments, the military services and Defense agencies will continue to find themselves operating unique and nonstandard financial processes and systems, the GAO report said.

Jonas said DOD's fiscal 2002 $100 million request is small when compared to the amount it spends on financial systems.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service issued a draft request for information for the financial management enterprise architecture July 27. The draft says the architecture will include the "as is" baseline; the operational, system and technical views of the "to be" objective financial management capability; and a capital investment road map for transitioning from DOD's current status to the target environment.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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